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Over Here: 20 - Gold Stars

...Gold Stars in many, many windows brought tears to us all, and it seemed to many at the time that even the flowers of the field wept with us during the worst days. Through it all, however, a redeeming fact of sorts was the awareness that, even then, through all of the world's darkness at the time, kids were always going to be kids...

Continuing his autobiograpy, Ron Pataky recalls wartime days.

With all of the back-breaking work Gordon and I were forced to perform as youngsters (we even - gasp mowed lawns, milked two cows, picked a few grapes, and did occasional light hauling!), you might've thought that all we did was work. Ha! For whatever reason, our otherwise unbending father no doubt at a desperate Mom's urging --always allowed us to leave work, (1) to attend church functions, and (2) to participate in our favorite sports.

We, of course, returned this mom-influenced kindness by cheating on absolutely every occasion we could. I don't really know about Gordie, but / invented purely imaginary athletic games ("they're counting on me, dad!") whenever I thought I could pull it off. And while I have no idea how long Lutheran catechism takes for most kids, I do know that for me, it required every Tuesday morning for nearly two years! (I must have been the most thoroughly catechimized kid in captivity!).

Since new classes at St. John's started about every eight weeks, there was at least one instruction class always in session. I'm pretty sure of this, because I could, from the Isaly's dairy store across the street, witness virtually every coming and going during the entire 22 months my sanctifying program lasted. (By way of tourist tips on historic sites, incidentally, Isaly's was known far and wide for its superior milkshakes).

We did play for some teams in those days. Both of us were members at one time or another of the "Mud" Gardiner Buick baseball squad and the Lumberman's Mutual Insurance basketball team; and, at least, was active in any number of other assorted leagues, teams, units, platoons, armies, squadrons, groups, or clubs. I refuse to besmirch my brother's name, but freely admit that I could arrange a "game" just about any hour of the day or night, given my special assortment of deceitful machinations. My poor dad never knew what was going on. The only thing he really knew was that his oldest boy (me) was one very busy youngster. In later years, I would reward him by occasionally getting my name in the paper, although by then I'd switched almost exclusively to football. The day would come when modest high school successes on the gridiron would help me to acquire a full, four-year scholarship to Stanford University, from which I managed to leave, under fire, a year and a half later, exactly one quarter before the precision of the point system would have flunked me out anyway. (Even if I had received a straight-A report card that quarter, I still would have flunked out the next - automatically!).

But enough of dull adult stories. Let us return once again to Yesteryear to those bygone days of Jack Armstrong, Inner Sanctum, the Lone Ranger, Abbott and Costello, Victory Gardens, scrap metal, V-Mail, and Ralston breakfast cereal; and, to a time of every boy's all-too-acute awareness of faraway places like Bastogne, Guadalcanal, Ploeste, and Tobruk. During most of those years of trial, near-daily casualty announcements all-too-often involved photos of kids we knew - neighbor guys who'd gone to our school, local athletes, or older kids we'd known from somewhere across town. Gold Stars in many, many windows brought tears to us all, and it seemed to many at the time that even the flowers of the field wept with us during the worst days. Through it all, however, a redeeming fact of sorts was the awareness that, even then, through all of the world's darkness at the time, kids were always going to be kids anywhere, at any time. It was apparently true, for tragically brief moments, even amidst the unimaginable horrors of the concentration camps.

But the kids I knew sensed that an Almighty God was dealing with that. It was just too monstrous a thought for a mere kid to wrap his mind around. But even that would be okay one day. It just had to be.

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